2018 Isabela Cigars Shape-Shifter | Cigar Reviews by the Katman

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Connecticut/ Nicaraguan Habano Prieto
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan, Pennsylvanian Ligero
Size: 6.5 x 42
Strength: Medium
Price: $8.95

Today we take a look at the 2018 Isabela Cigars Shape-Shifter.
Samples were provided by Isabela Cigar Co.

Released Dec.1 2018 (I received samples over a month before release)
From the Isabela Cigars Shape-Shifter press release:
“As Fearless as the Battles Raging Around Us, Our Most Aggressive Blend to Date….
“The 2018 ISABELA Shape-Shifter…

“The blend was created with multiple varieties of strains from high-priming Nicaraguan Tobaccos, wrapped in aged Ecuadorian Connecticut and Nicaraguan Habano Prieto.

“All of the tobaccos used were aged in different lengths and then blended with an added sliver of fresh Pennsylvania Ligero.
“Limited release of 50 boxes of 12 and 50 bundles of 25. Both will be available to our official Isabela Retailers all of which are listed on our website,
The Shape-Shifter will also be available direct from our website to the public.
The MSRP is $8.95.
5-packs are $45.00
Boxes of 12 are $120.00”

I asked Piette some questions and I received and in-depth reply:
“When blending Shape-Shifter, we set out with the intent to create a blend that would do exactly as the name suggested. We also wanted distinct shape-shifting; knowing we had NO RUSH to release the craft…and determined that we wanted to use superhot high priming tobaccos to create a powerful journey of ever-changing flavor profiles with the knowledge that to execute the blend the tobaccos we wanted to use were very oily, rich, powerful, and would need extra aging post production. We also used several different tobacco vendors as we sifted through aged high primings everywhere we could.

“We could have varied aged pre-production tobaccos which helps effect the transition reveal of the craft. But I knew that we would need extensive post-production aging on this blend, I NEVER thought that would equate to over 2-1/2+ years. But after a year, we kept checking, smoking, checking…ad infinitum. For a while, I feared this one may never be ready…then I forgot about it. I revisited the blend in July and felt it was ripe and very close to being ready.

“We then had a major glitch…the Creative Magic Studio blends are produced in Nicaragua, then winged stateside to Miami where we age them.

“The glitch came when Nicaragua started having major political problems. It affected 3 production runs of our core lines causing them to be stuck in Nicaragua. We solved the issue by flying down there and drove using backroads to the airport in late September.

“We didn’t want to release Shape-Shifter, which was a very limited production run, and not have anything else available. We pushed back the release date of Shape-Shifter to early December which also gave the blend an extra 4 months of aging.

“ALL the limited releases come out of our Creative Magic Studio. After the creation process is complete, we revisit the blends 4 to 6 months later; we tweak them a bit and do another production run so we can have a recurrent release loop.

“Despite the level of the tweaking, we never assume that the crafts are ready for release. Unlike anyone else, we just wait and wait and check progress continuously. When the blend declares it’s ready, we start formulating a release date.”

I also asked about previous limited releases that were spectacular (Read my reviews of previous Isabela releases by typing in Isabela in the Search Window) and if they have a new life in front of them:
“So YES, all of the previously crafted blends will return. We just aren’t sure when at this time. We are currently working on multiple new blends to add to our catalog.
Yes, we think Time-Traveler should see a return…hopefully in 2019.
Mash-Up who knows??
StarDust…2020 at the earliest
PepperHead…don’t know…but we have a few more surprises ahead.”

The stick has an exquisite barber pole presentation. Lines are sharp and distinct. The wrapper is an oily milk chocolate hue with some tooth. Sticks are firm with the right amount of resistance. No soft or hard spots. The triple cap is flawless. Seams are invisible. There is some veinage but nothing that detracts from the quality look of the cigar. I like that the cap and the foot are matching using the dark Nic Habano leaf.

Rich notes of chocolate, caramel, and espresso cause my nostrils to flare. Malt is huge. Floral notes fill the air with notes of lavender and roses. There are touches of peppermint, vanilla, hazelnut, fresh pear, cedar, lemon meringue, and spicy red pepper.
The cold draw is full of coffee and cream, bittersweet chocolate, malt, cedar, peppermint, vanilla, pepper, and vanilla custard.

The tip is slightly sweetened in the old Cuban tradition. Nice.
The draw is spot on. I put my PerfecDraw cigar poker and tool back in the drawer.

Chocolate reigns the day…for the moment. The Shape-Shifter wastes no time getting down and getting funky. Flavors that were, just moments ago, merely aromas burst upon my palate like a roaring train.
It’s an onslaught, an avalanche of complexity from the first puffs. Transitions waste zero time before performing the Nutcracker. The finish digs in deep.

Strength is a solid medium.
That fruity fresh pear aroma becomes something my palate can get a death grip on…as other fruits appear: baked apple and banana.

The long elegant stick makes me feel like a real gentleman. Smoke pours from the foot like in a print booze ad as the dude is dressed in Armani and holding his glass filled with ice and bourbon and looking content as hell.

Flavors are going nuts. Wow. Incredibly deep complexity so early. My tiny brain is blown. (Didn’t have far to go).
I’ve smoked exactly half an inch or so and if the Shape-Shifter continues on this path, I’m going to make my detractors very angry over my rating.

The cigar is so densely packed that this is going to be at least a 90 minute smoke.

“Kashmir” is playing. Page said it was his favorite Zep song.

Flavors are so intense, that out of survival mode, they begin to morph into a deep richness and balance that minimizes the early boldness of the individual elements into a unique bouquet of one-ness. The driving thread of the blend is the morphing…it never stops changing. One puff is full of chocolate and creamy coffee and the next is full of nuts and fruit. The spiciness is right on the money. It lingers in the back of my throat without interrupting the flow of flavors.

The previous limited editions that Johnny Piette produced were outrageously fine. He has done the impossible by bringing his skills to an even higher level of expertise. Unbelievable.

I smoked one a couple weeks after receipt and it was enticing but nothing like this morning’s version.

The shape shifter adjective is slightly deceiving. Yes, it is in a constant state of flux as flavor elements float like free protons but I don’t detect actual moments in which the flavor profile changes. It is fluid. Like watching a masterful guitarist constantly change riffs and scales while you are enraptured by the continuous motion of the piece.

There are flavors so intensely quiet but so effervescently intriguing, I find it difficult to concentrate. Like Jimi sang, “Are You Experienced?” Or “VooDoo Chile.” This is becoming a mystical adventure.

Flavors: Creaminess, chocolate, espresso, caramel, floral notes, malt, black pepper, vanilla ice cream, fruit, nuts, cedar, steak sauce, charred filet mignon, peppermint, raisins, a touch of green tea, marzipan, and graham cracker. Yikes!

It’s taken over 30 minutes to get here. For a 42-ring gauge stick, that is quite the accomplishment.

Strength remains at medium with hints of more strength in its future.

I have no idea how Johnny managed to make this perfect example of masterful blending techniques available at only $9 a stick. It shames the rest of the cigar industry…for the most part…because they keep cranking out $15 cigars that are unimpressive but have giant PR machines pumping out drek to make you ‘need’ to buy their product. And then you’re disappointed.

A lot of great blends need years of humidor time to reach their potential. Not here my dears. Johnny has done all that for you. Hats off.

This is a blend that you don’t have to throw in your humidor and forget about til your next colonoscopy. Man, less than two months in my possession and its spewing fire and thunderbolts as the earth collapses in on itself.

I must buy some as soon as I finish this review. I must have a box. In fact, I will do so right now before I publish this review.

The Shape-Shifter is Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.

Like the name says, the blend changes on a dime. This is one of the most wonderful cigar experiences I’ve had. I’m giggly.
Perfect balance. Incredible complexity that boggles the gonads.

The spiciness is coming to the forefront. A mix of mild black pepper and softened by a nuance of white pepper.
The Shape-Shifter is a whirling dervish of flavors and endowments. This is madness.
Johnny my friend…you are an alien, sir.

The cigar needs no libation to accompany it. I have a bottle of water next to me and I haven’t taken a single sip. That’s not to say a delicious bourbon wouldn’t go down well…but it’s only 9am and I don’t start getting drunk til at least 10am.

Zero construction issues. No burn issues. The cigar doesn’t get soft. A brilliant job of rolling.

I did what I said I would do and spent next week’s food allowance on a full box. There is no way I can let this deal pass me by. Really.

I love the size. I wonder how many iterations of sizes that Isabela tried before deciding.
I need a souciance of sweetness to balance the savory. The Shape-Shifter shines in this department.

I give in…a sip of water. My palate explodes with the next puff. I dial 9-1-1.

I’m freezing my balls off with the windows open and it’s only 22 degrees. I don’t care. At my age, I’m thinking of putting my balls in cryogenic humidor anyway.

Strength is medium/full. It is a powerful aphrodisiac which is not described in the press release. I’m staring at Sammy the Cat with alluring eyes and a primal urge.

My all-time favorite Jimi tune is on…” All Along the Watchtower.” How appropriate.

“There are many among us who think life is a joke.” Not Johnny. This young feller is deadly serious about how a cigar should be made. And he comes through every time. His web site has his other offerings and every single one is a real gem.

So few boutique brands have real consistency. Many put out too many blends. They fail.

Johnny has the gift. He is a keeper. And he is a home boy here in Milwaukee. I’m going to his B&M for their annual Christmas party this month and when I see him, I am going to cover his punim with loads of kisses and hickeys. Sure, I may be shot dead but I’ve lived a nice life.

Piette is now a bona fide master of the transition game. His last entries had the same qualities. Constant change in one blend.

I’m now an hour and 15 minutes into the Shape-Shifter.

OK. I understand my detractors who think a perfect cigar doesn’t exist. Bullshit. That is my level of understanding.
My palate takes no prisoners. I’m not shy. I’m way more entertaining when a cigar sucks. But when a blend reaches a level of magnificence, it must be rated accordingly. So, my babies, if you don’t get in on this, you’re nuts. The release couldn’t be more limited and a week or so from now, they’ll be gone forever. I’m using all of my Katman Powers to steer you to the Isabela Cigar Co. web site and get some. You will regret it if you don’t at least snag a fiver…but get the box.

No nicotine. I love you John.

The new morph is the new incredible smoothness of the blend. It has changed dramatically. There has been no lessening of the flavor profile but it’s like smoking 4 of your favorite cigars at once.
Don’t buy a $12 cigar. Don’t buy a $14 cigar. Don’t buy a $25 cigar. You can get everything your brain receptors wants with the Shape-Shifter.

My top cigar for 2017 was the Isabela Stardust. What to do, what to do…

Ooh…ooh…you can also get a little surprise if you go to the Isabela web site and during checkout put in the promo code of Katman Free Katpack. Tell John I sent you. Maybe he won’t kill me when I see him at the party while he is wiping off my lipstick from his face and neck.

There is no point in describing flavors at this point. All accounted for. Nothing lost in the course of the smoke. The flavor list is endless. You will find flavors I didn’t even conceive of. A perfect cigar for newbies. If you want something that will make your eyes roll back, then this is your opportunity.

Over the last 5 years, or so, I’ve seen Isabela grow exponentially with one spectacular blend after another. I feel fortunate I’ve been exposed to this local boy’s talents. There isn’t another B&M owner on the planet that has this guy’s talent and patience for bringing outstanding cigars to market.

If you don’t do what your Uncle Katman is telling you to do, I will come to your house…rape your dog, eat your cat, send your children to military schools, and make your wife wash my car.

Final smoke time is 2 hours 5 minutes. Yeah, baby.


And now for something almost completely different:

From Wikipedia:
“Saint Patrick’s Day or the Feast of Saint Patrick (Irish: Lá Fhéile Pádraig, “the Day of the Festival of Patrick”) is a cultural and religious holiday celebrated annually on 17 March, the death date of the most commonly-recognized patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461).

“Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early seventeenth century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church and Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, as well as celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, céilithe, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Christians also attend church services, and the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption.”

Curved Air was scheduled to tour Ireland back in 1975. Things were really bad between the British government and the IRA. The winter of 1974 saw a bombing in downtown London every day for 14 days during the Christmas holiday. It was the scariest thing possible. Bombs were placed in waist high trash bins and if you happened to walk by one when it went off, well bye-bye.

This following incident will stick with me til the day I die.
I had left Curved Air. This guy contacted me telling me he was associated with Ringo Starr and he was putting a band together and would rehearse in L.A. And Ringo wanted me as his bassist.

The guy’s name was very familiar. But I just couldn’t place it.

Our first meeting was to take place at the London Hilton lobby at 1pm on a Monday. But that meeting never happened. Exactly 24 hours before, to the hour, a huge bomb went off in the Hilton lobby killing dozens of people. I was in shock. For the grace of God, I could have been there.

A week passed and this guy was giving me excuses about meeting with Ringo. He told me that he was a member of the English band, “Badfinger.” These guys were big for a while but had broken up before this guy contacted me.

I went to record stores trying to find Badfinger records but they were out of print. I couldn’t verify this guy.

So, I made a bold move and called Apple Records and asked to speak to Derek Taylor. He was their press agent and the press agent for the entire time the Beatles were together. Everyone knew who this guy was.

Derek took my call and I asked about this guy. Derek said this guy was never in Badfinger. And then we chatted. He told me some inside Beatles stories and I was on Cloud 9.

I had been had.
I got on the phone with this guy and called him a fraud and it was the last time we spoke.
A month later, I was looking at the back of the Curved Air “Live” album and noticed something. Down at the bottom were credits. And here was this guy’s name as a production assistant. The fucking fraud!

The music business is everything you think it is. Corrupt and full of bull shitters.
It was for that reason that at the age of 34, I gave it up and threw in the towel. I went back into commercial construction.

I was no longer in big time music biz but I continued to play in bands that played out to make some extra dough right up until a couple of years ago until the damage caused by my skydiving accident took its toll and I could no longer hold my heavy bass for four sets a night…or lug around a huge bass rig. At my age, friends that were once roadies are all in bed by 9pm.
Still, it was a great ride.


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13 replies

  1. You introduced me to the Wizard Piette years ago Phil and after just a one of his creations placed his cigars at the top of my “must haves.” I’ve been waiting so loooong in anticipation of Johnny’s latest that I ordered as soon as they hit the market earlier this week and can’t wait. I couldn’t even wait to read your review first. Damn fool that I am, I can’t take advantage of the Katman Free Katpak! (Oh well, no loss I suppose.
    Merry Seasons, Vince

  2. “If you don’t do what your Uncle Katman is telling you to do, I will come to your house…rape your dog, eat your cat, send your children to military schools, and make your wife wash my car.”

    I’m just not confident that the Katman would keep the noun verb ordering straight. It’ll be best for everyone to just get some.

  3. I just ordered from Isabela a couple of weeks ago and the Shape-Shifter was not on the site. I must’ve just missed it by a couple of days. Looks like I’ll be heading back there for these. I can also attest to the Katman code…very generous. So listen to your Uncle Katman…he’ll never steer ya wrong. Thanks again for all the gifts I’ve been giving myself this year. I should probably start thinking about other people now.

  4. Pulled the trigger on a fiver of the Shapeshifter. It’s all I can afford right now and I shouldn’t do that! Love your comment, you won’t have to wait for your next colonoscopy, lmao! I’m overdue…

  5. I was a huge fan of the Stardust. This sounds even better! I just placed my order and look forward to lighting them up after a nice rest in my humi. BTW – I do believe in scoring a cigar 100. There comes a point when a cigar is all it needs to be. What more can we ask for? Otherwise it would be pointless to have 100 as part of the scale.

  6. The StarDust is a really cool blend. Still smoking great after a year of naked storage, and the flavors are developing nicely. My dog’s been pining for you to rape him, but I went ahead and got 10 Shapeshifters. I have to put my interests first sometimes.

  7. Hey Katman, just wanted to say thanks for the code you gave us! Got my fiver yesterday plus two extra singles, one of which I enjoyed today, the authentically Cuban Sized Corona. Thanks again!

  8. It is SO Great to hear the feedback- it is the FUEL that FEEDS OUR ENGINES !! The Isabela True Cuban-sized corona is my all time favorite blend and go to cigar..I never get enough of the sizzling spicy transitions in that vitola…and it is truly the baseline blend from which we buiid all of our blends off of..like the trunk of the TREE OF ISABELA Life !!

    • Your cigars are AMAZING!!! I am having my first ever Shape-Shifter right now, and it’s one of the best cigars I’ve ever had. Transitions like crazy! Great job!

  9. Thanks, Phil.

    Grabbed a fiver immediately… That review read like on of them romance novels that stimulates the mind and body.

    Can’t wait to indulge.


  10. Hi Johnny and Phil I just received my 5er and then read Katmans review after I purchased the Shape-Shifter’s thanks for the nice extra’s I could only imagine what would have been shipped if I used Katman’s name. I’m looking forward to the return of some old favorites. Great work both of ya’ll (Johnny and Katman)’